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Eight out of 10 college girls on a diet

Diana Forbes | Interrobang | News | April 17th, 2006

According to a new study, an overwhelming majority of college-aged females are on a diet and some are using unhealthy methods to get results.

An online issue of Nutrition Journal reports 83 per cent of female college students between the ages of 18 and 24 have consciously tried to lose or control their weight, while 32 per cent skip breakfast and nine per cent used smoking cigarettes to stimulate results.

The study, entitled “Dieting practices, weight perceptions, and body composition,” surveyed 185 first and second-year female students at the East Carolina University in North Carolina.

The majority (80 per cent) of participants also used physical activity to control their weight, but 32 per cent didn't participate in regularly programmed recreation, sport or heavy physical activity. Only 19 per cent spent over three hours a week in vigorous aerobic activity.

Five per cent of participating females used vomiting as way to control their weight, while 10 per cent skipped lunch, 40 per cent counted calories and two-thirds consumed low-fat or fat-free versions of food.

Almost 60 per cent of those polled felt pressure to lose weight, instigated by themselves (54 per cent), the media (37 per cent), or friends (32 per cent).

“We found females perceive healthy and attractive weights to be lower than current weight, and that media influence contributes pressure to be a certain weight,” the researchers said. “Dieting strategies have become so “main stream” in our society, that one may not be aware, unless explicitly stated, behaviours that are being used to consciously lose or control ones' weight.”

The study says the dreaded “freshman 15” plays a significant role in “solidifying the oppressive idea that a female must be thin in order to qualify for success and happiness in our society.”

At the core of what makes the ‘freshman 15' concept so problematic is the reduction of female students to a single dimension; body type,” said the authors of the study.

Two professors at the University of Guelph recently dispelled the ‘freshman 15' myth when they followed 100 female students from their last year in high school throughout their first-year at University.

Although the Guelph study found that females only gained an average of five pounds their freshman year, that stigma of weight gain continues, which leads to unhealthy dieting practices.

According to Hopes Garden, an eating disorder support and resource centre in London, the prevalence of eating disorders among women ages 15-29 can be anywhere from three to 10 per cent and 98 per cent of all females are dissatisfied with their bodies.

A Canadian study conducted by Statistics Canada in 2005 found 23 per cent women 18 and older are considered obese, while the American counterpart is higher at 33 per cent.

The East Carolina University study recommended that all females, regardless of weight, would benefit from open discussions with health educators.

“Females could identify healthy eating practices that could be expanded upon to promote a healthy weight status and recognize the healthy consequences associated with using healthy dieting practices,” say the authors of the study.

Currently, Fanshawe College does not have a registered dietician on staff, but does offer personal counselling at Counselling and Student Life, Room: F2010 for anyone that needs more information or help maintaining a healthy body image.
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